Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Parmigiano melenzani (aubergine & parmesan)

Although Parmigiano melenzani translates as parmesan aubergine (egg plant) the other ingredients, mozzarella and tomato sauce, are layered with the aubergine and as dominant as the parmesan which is used to top the whole thing off.

I was introduced to this friendly Italian dish many years ago while staying with friends in Milan. It was Dante's signature dish, one he learned at his mother's side in the Northern Italian countryside. Although it transfers well to urban tables this dish has never lost its rustic charm.

I generally serve it as a lunch, or light supper, with a salad and I think it also makes a substantial accompaniment with plain chicken.

Parmigiano Melenzani

for 4

2 medium aubergine, sliced crosswise (1- 1.5cms, 1 inch)
4 tbspns of olive oil
2 cups tomato sauce
375g mozzarella
3 to 4 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan

Prepare in advance:

Of course it is better to make your own tomato sauce using my quick tomato sauce recipe. If you use 8 tomatoes it will yield 2 cups. There is no need to increase any of the other ingredients.

When using aubergines one used to have to slice, salt and drain them for about an hour or so before using them. However, now (don't even think about genetic engineering) we can usually get away with using then straight away. Although, knowing that, I do tend to to slice and salt them if I have time.

The way to do that is slice, toss them in a generous shake of salt and put them in a colander. Put a plate, or something that will fit into the colander on top of the aubergines and press down. Put something on top of the plate to act as a weight. I usually use anything to hand - cans from the larder work well. When you are going to use them, rinse off the salt and dry well with a tea towel or paper towel.

You can also cook your aubergines in advance:

Heat your grill (broiler)

Brush one side of the aubergine slices with a thin coat of olive oil and place on flat oven tray. (I usually cover the tray with foil, as it means cleaning the tray is very easy). Place the tray under the grill until the aubergine softens and goes golden. Turn the slices over and brush the other side with olive oil. Repeat the cooking process. It will probably be necessary to cook the aubergine slices in batches. It is not necessary to keep the cooked aubergines warm.

Once you have your tomato sauce and aubergines cooked:

Heat the oven to 180C 375F

Slice the mozzarella into thin rings.

Take an oven proof dish and brush it with a small amount of the olive oil.

Place aubergines in a single layer of the dish, cover lightly with tomato sauce. Top this with a layer of mozzarella. Repeat the process - aubergine, tomato sauce, mozzarella. Two layers should be enough to use up all your supplies. Finish the dish off by sprinkling the parmesan over the top layer of mozzarella.

Place on a middle rack in the pre heated oven and cook for about 45 minutes by which time the parmesan should have formed a golden crust over the deliciously bubbling tomatoes and aubergines.

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